Victoria Jimenez and Maria Sara Arreguin shop for affordable organics at the Garfield Elementary farmer's market.
Production accountant Christopher Waters, spent nine weeks in Puerto Rico filming "Welcome to the Jungle" (2013) and missed various monthly planning and work group meetings when he finally decided to leave the Oakland Food Policy Council - an organization he helped found.
"I was the chair of the fundraising and financing work group and a member of the city innovations group," Waters said. "But, things shifted. After returning from Puerto Rico, I decided that my teenager and work needed more time."
Former OFPC board member, Margot Prado, Economic Development Specialist for the city of Oakland, was also forced to leave the board for personal reasons. Just before leaving Prado had adopted another child. She now has three teenagers.
"I really enjoyed being on the council, but I couldn't be at all the meetings," she admitted.
Reforming a major food system into a sustainable and equitable food shed requires a deep commitment from individuals working together across sectors - this, the council is keeping front and center as it begins accepting applications for eight soon-to-be-vacant seats.
Every year roughly one third of OFPC board members finish their three-year terms thereby opening their seats to new members. Roughly two seats are vacated every year due to attrition.
This year the 21-member OFPC hopes to fill eight seats with fundraising savvy and well connected individuals who will join the board to make mobile vending a reality across the city among other initiatives.
According to Oakland City Councilwoman Libby Schaaf, the OFPC has advocated for including urban agriculture into the city's climate change strategy.
"They were successful in having us add elements to our plan, recognizing that encouraging agriculture is part of preventing global warming," she said.
She added that they have had success in revising Oakland's planning code to make it easier for residents to farm. But, some say that volunteers are better poised on the ground instead of working behind the scenes in circular committee sessions to change the food system.
Karen Hester, for example, bypassed various city routes last fall when she launched Bites off Broadway. The city had made little progress on mobile vending outside of the Fruitvale, she says. So, she worked with councilwomen Rebecca Kaplan and Jane Brunner to ultimately pass the December 2011 City Council measure that allowed five pods to sell food across the city.
"It took activists like me to create a model in order to show what can be done and get others [city staff and council members] excited," said Hester. "Sometimes it takes working outside the system to make things happen."
While she has met with Esperanza Pallana, coordinator for the OFPC, Schaaf did not recall working with mobile vending activists Hester or Elizabeth August.
According to one city staffer, the food council has been limited in its ability to enact food policies because of the difficulties inherent in working within government agencies: "It's the city regulations and getting the right people on board. Some of these policies are better handled by economic committees instead of the life enrichment committee that the OFPC is [accountable to]."
Waters said the council is on track and only needs more members.
"I love the OFPC and I think it's doing great work in Oakland," Waters said. "It's a big time commitment. And, there's a lot to do. But it's a worthwhile investment for those who can afford the time because the pay off is great for the people of Oakland."
For many the OFPC remains an invisible agency. None of the city planners this reporter spoke to had spoken to an OFPC board member.
Twenty nine applications were submitted for OFPC board seats last year. If you are interested in joining the council, visit its website and download the application, which is due Aug. 15. New applications are expected to join the applications of three founding members now on the board whose terms end this year: Jennifer LeBarre, director of Nutrition Services for the Oakland Unified School District; Diane Woloshin, director of Nutrition Services for the Alameda County Health Department; and Jenny Huston, founder of Farm to Table Food Services.
Read more about the OFPC from Oakland Local HERE.